The Battle of New Orleans was a series of skirmishes between Andrew Jackson’s army and the British that began on Dec. 23, 1814, and culminated with the most significant battle on Jan. 8, 1815. A young Black boy named Jordan Noble, who played a steady roll on his drum, emerged as a hero of that battle.

by Tribune Staff

Oil on canvas painting of Jordan Noble by Ted Ellis. Commissioned by The McKenna McKenna Museums in 2000.

Born a slave on a Georgia plantation in 1800, Jordan Bankston Noble arrived in New Orleans in 1812 with his mother. And when Andrew Jackson came to New Orleans in search of free men of color and enslaved Blacks to augment his ranks in 1814, 14-year-old Jordan signed on as a drummer in the 7th U.S. Regiment.

During the 18th century, the U.S. Army began enlisting boys as drummers to free up older males for fighting. And as with Black men—both free and enslaved who signed on as soldiers—Black boys signed up as drummers. For some, it was a badge of honor. For many, it was a way to escape poverty or slavery. The role of a military drummer wasn’t merely to keep a beat. The drum was the primary form of battlefield communication. It was used to convey orders from commanders to fire, cease fire, advance, retire and so on. Drummers had to learn, and soldiers were expected to recognize dozens of different signals. To be sure, it was a weighty task for the most seasoned drummer and military man—let alone a 14-year-old boy.

Noble drummed orders throughout the battle. According to one historian, the 7th Regiment’s 14-year-old drummer boy was “beating away on the regimental drum . . . it was this boy’s drum, rattling away in the thick of battle, ‘in the hottest hell of fire,’ that helped to serve as one of the guideposts for the fierce battling American troops.”

After the War of 1812 was over, Noble remained connected to the military, participating in the 1836 Seminole War in Florida, in the Mexican War, and the Civil War.

After his military days passed, Noble remained in high esteem within the New Orleans free Black community and held onto his legacy as the drummer boy of the Battle of New Orleans. In fact, some historians suggest that it was his role in the 7th Regiment that introduced him to music. His regard as a hero in the Battle of New Orleans is believed to be the reason he was able to freely pursue music, work and family.

While Jordan is well known for his role in the Battle of New Orleans, he also had a profound impact on establishing and promoting marching band and parading traditions, particularly for Black New Orleanians.

“The Eighth” became a federal holiday in 1828 after Jackson’s election as president and continued to be acknowledged until the start of the Civil War.

Jordan and other free veterans of color were first invited to participate in the city’s annual parade commemorating “The Eighth” on Jan. 8, 1851. A durable fixture of the celebration from that time until the Civil War, he marched along the major thoroughfares of New Orleans each year playing upon his worn-out drum and leading the other men of color who fought defending New Orleans that January back in 1815. Noble himself instituted a New Year’s Day tradition where he and his fife and drum corps beat out the same reveille that he played on the Chalmette Battlefield.

“He was the first person of color to march up and down the streets of New Orleans without having military colors. The marching clubs owe him a bit of thanks,” says Alvin Jackson, founder of the Tremé Petite Jazz Museum. “Hopefully someone will pick up on this and have a regular, annual event with marching bands in his honor.”

Jordan’s music career spanned from the 1820s-era Congo Square to the mid-century commemorations of the historic battle during which he garnered fame to drumming demonstrations he took part in at the World’s Exposition in New Orleans in 1885.

Noble died in 1890.

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